football

Hughes: We will play very, very good defense

There's no easy solution. The void is going to be there.
Jonathan Gray, Dillon Overton, and Jake Fisher combined for nearly half (22) of Oklahoma's 43 wins a season ago. Try No. 3 overall selection, $4.8 million signing bonus big when talking about replacing Gray. His 147 strikeouts ranked No. 2 nationally spread across a team-leading 126.1 innings, while Overton (91) and Fisher (51) rank No. 2 and No. 3 on the team, respectively.
It's no small feat for first-year head coach Pete Hughes replacing that type of production.
Fortunately Hughes has options. Multiple options at that. 12 from the right side. Five more from the left. 17 in total.
"We've got plenty of new guys capable of stepping up and filling the shoes that were left behind for them," said sophomore catcher Anthony Hermelyn. "I don't think they are scared of filling those shoes left for them, either."
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Depth shouldn't be an issue when it comes to Oklahoma's pitching staff in 2013-14. You can be sure of that.
How it all shakes out will be the question. Combining for a 17-3 record, eight of the 17 hurlers on the Sooners opening day roster return with innings under their belt from a season ago. However, only four of those 17 return with having ever made a start at the Division I level.
"It's as deep of a pitching staff as I've ever coached with quality," endorsed Hughes.
What we do know is the Sooners opening weekend rotation is set. Three underclassmen will be given the ball starting with LHP Jacob Evans locked in for the Friday afternoon opener.
Saturday the ball will be given to redshirt sophomore LHP Adam Choplick, with true freshman RHP Jake Elliott getting the nod on Sunday. Evans jumps into the Friday night role left by Gray after making all 30 of his appearances as a freshman from the bullpen throwing 52.1 innings, striking out 41 (No. 4 on team), and earning freshman All-American honors.
For Choplick, it's a shot at redemption after starting last season in position for the Sooners No. 3 starting job before being moved to midweek starter and eventually being shutdown by injury just 10 starts into the year. Elliott makes his career debut on Sunday after parlaying a successful fall campaign with an even better start to his first spring in Norman.
So much so it had his head coach dishing out superlatives of the 6-foot-7 left-handed pitcher at the Sooners Media Day less than two weeks before Opening Day.
"Jake Elliott has been outstanding. (In) his last outing last weekend I don't want to say it was 'Big 12 ready' because I don't know anything about the Big 12 but he would certainly have been 'ACC ready' in my mind," said Hughes.
Returning as the team leader in innings (58.1) is sophomore RHP Ralph Garza Jr.
"It's always the age old question for me. Is he more valuable out of the bullpen, where he can win three or four games for us in a week? Or just throw him out there on Friday night and set the tone for the week and the weekend?," said Hughes.
Garza's March 26 start versus Oral Roberts offers reason to think the New Braunfels (Texas) native would be more useful as the latter tossing a complete-game and striking out 11 Golden Eagles in just his second career start.
For now the choice will likely mean Garza Jr., staying put in the bullpen where he enjoyed a successful rookie campaign posting a 5-1 record and finishing the year with 38 strikeouts and a 2.76 ERA.
"I think that game really turned my season around and a lot of the time when I try to look back at things I was doing mechanics wise or see what I was doing right, that's the game I look back to," said Garza.
Joining him in a relief role from the right side are seniors Kindle Ladd (13 APP. 24.2 IP 3.65 ERA), Kyle Hayes (1-0 17 app. 3.23 ERA), and redshirt senior Drew Krittenbrink. Hayes left his mark on the Sooners postseason run recording a pair of saves in back-to-back days of the Big 12 Tournament, Robert Tasin looks to expand his role after throwing just 13.2 innings as a redshirt sophomore.
As does redshirt sophomore RHP Corey Coppping and Wister (Okla.) freshman RHP Tyler Gibson. Both of whom will compete for innings as a starter during midweek match-ups. Copping made four starts a season ago, striking out 12 over 15.2 innings.
Sophomore transfer Jeffery Curan brings his talents to the Sooner State after a throwing a 9-2 record on the board at Fullerton College.
Freshman LHP Octavio Rodriguez who was a two-time Perfect Game All-American is expected to contribute as well. At 6-foot-5, 205-pound Rodriguez compiled over 200-career strikeouts at Franklin High School in El Paso (Texas) earning Collegiate Baseball's honor as All-El Paso Pitcher of the Year 2013.
"Our pitching staff will throw a lot of strikes and we will play very, very good defense. Anytime you aren't giving people extra runners in the form of a walk or an error you have a chance to win a game," said Hughes.
DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK
Key Losses: Garrett Carey, Jack Mayfield, Matt Oberste
Key Additions: Sheldon Neuse, Keach Ballard, Austin O'Brien, Niko Buentello, Joshua Ake
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